Quality Education Essential In Today’s World Economy

Oklahoma Chief of Education Strategy and Innovation

I am pleased to serve as Governor Henry’s Chief Advisor on Education Strategy and Innovation. Why? Because as Secretary of Commerce, I listened to business people who knew that to remain competitive in this global economy, they must be in a state that produced a top quality workforce. A competitive workforce requires a seamless pre-k through lifelong learning education system that produces college and career ready employees. As Mayor of Tulsa, I learned that a top-notch education system is necessary to impact poverty and to improve a community’s economic health and safety.

The key competitive edge in America, Oklahoma and Tulsa is to insure a high-quality public education system that reaches every child. Yet in America today, every 26 seconds a student drops out of school, more than 1.3 million students a year. At least 14,700 students did not graduate from high school in Oklahoma in 2007. This is a loss of lifetime earnings of $3.7 billion as well as increased health care costs to our state of over $137 million over the lifetime of each of these dropouts. Young people who drop out are twice as likely to be unemployed than high school graduates, three times as likely to be in poverty, eight times as likely to end up in prison and twice as likely to be a parent of a child who drops out. To allow this trend to continue is economically unsustainable and morally unacceptable.

The world has changed. Tulsa no longer competes against Oklahoma City, or even Chicago. Bartlesville competes against Beijing. America is no longer the leader in producing college graduates. Our education system must make bold, transformational changes and they must occur now.

What can we do? First, recognize that the success of public education impacts each of us in our daily lives, whether or not your child is currently a student. The solution isn’t a “they should” solution but a “we must.” We must each get engaged. We must individually volunteer to mentor kids in our school systems that have no guiding adult. The number of homeless children in Oklahoma has tripled in the last five years, more than 11,000 school-aged kids in Oklahoma are in foster care, 13,414 were victims of child maltreatment and 20,191 juveniles were arrested in Oklahoma in 2007. And, over 40 percent of the children born in 2008 were born to single mothers. Your time and your talent are needed. I encourage you to volunteer to help mentor a child to insure they have the hope and support to be graduated from high school.

Oklahoma has taken the lead in the nation in early childhood education, but it is time we take the lead in the percentage of kids who are graduated from high school and are college and career ready. We must have a system that reliably helps us identify the most effective teachers and leaders and provide them the incentives, resources and support they need to teach those kids most at risk for dropping out. We must expand successful programs like , Street School and Tulsa Achieves and Tulsa Pathways. We must increase the number of students pursuing 21st century science, technology, engineering and math skills. We must increase the number of college degrees in our community.

One percentage point increase in college attainment rates in the Tulsa region would increase annual per capita income levels creating a $646 million annual impact on our economy. We must all take responsibility for insuring the necessary bold changes occur in education. The future success of our community depends on it.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles concerning education by Kathy Taylor, former Mayor of Tulsa and Secretary of Commerce for the State of Oklahoma.

Updated 04-27-2010

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